one man's ceiling
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
  the birthday candle question
last night we had a small family birthday celebration for e. after some discussion the night before she had decided on an orange creamsicle cake: orange flavored cake with vanilla frosting. knowing full well the chemical burn of artificially flavored cakes i opted for grating fresh orange peel and adding orange oil into a basic white cake mix. nice and subtle, and no doubt better tasting than the mix i saw in the store that contained a chemical bath that you poured into fork holes of an artificially colored cake.

but just after the candles were blown out and we were getting ready to cut i was struck with a confusion i hadn't remembered having before: what to do with the candles? it was one of those displacements where you've done something a million times before -- entering a PIN number at the ATM, signing your name on a form -- where at first you aren't quite sure what you're doing and then you question what you've done, even when it's correct.

so there i was, wondering what one does with the birthday candles. obviously they don't get eaten (though edible candles might be a good idea) but; do they get removed before cutting? does the birthday person get to lick the frosting off the candles? are the candles saved for future use or thrown away? if they get both licked and saved are they cleaned first before being put away? the cutting and eating of the cake removed the inquiry from my mind but it was still with me this morning, nagging at me.

it's a faint memory, but growing up it seems that there was always jockeying for a piece of cake with a candle in it, meaning it was better than those without. and, of course, if it contained both a candle and a desirous piece of decoration then it was supreme. but in more recent memory i seem to recall candles being removed before the cutting of cake and -- like licking the mixing spoon, beaters or frosting knife -- slurping the frosting off the ends of the candles. but is that the priviledge of the birthday person or does everyone share? in cutting a cake with candles in it the recipient got to lick their own candle, so if there were plenty to go around why wouldn't they be shared?

i'm almost afraid to consider that we licked the candles growing up and that they were saved for future birthdays without being cleaned of saliva or residue. i know at least once, while young, i found a candle with a candied bit of frosting still on it, nowhere near any birthday, and i nibbled it off like a little mousie. who knows how old it was, i didn't seem to care at the time.

yeah, it's a pretty silly set of questions, but the dissonance is there. what say you? candles on or off before cutting? do they get licked, and by whom? do they get reused? cleaned or tossed?

the things i wonder...
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